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26o             A SEARCH IN SECRET EGYPT
kill any other snake without regret. Some priests there actually keep fangless cobras in the temples, feed them on milk and sugar, and pamper them with ceremonial worship. Such snakes become quite tame and quickly emerge from their holes in the temple when a reed-pipe is played to them. When one of them dies it is wrapped up in a shroud and cremated, as if it were a human body.
Many a peasant, whether in the north, south, west, east or centre of India, finds much satisfaction in worshipping the image of a hooded cobra, or in placing food near the hole of a living one, for he regards such a creature as being the bodily vehide of some higher power, some spirit to be reverenced and honoured. This notion has been handed down to him through the most ancient traditions of his land, and he accepts it without question, as he accepts so many other strange notions. No other species of snake receives his worship.
In the holy of holies of many a temple, shrouded in darkness or lit by the dimmest of lamps, and across whose threshold no man of alien faith may tread, the sculptured figure of the serpent twines itself around the base of the shrine or rears its hooded head. Turning to South Africa, Zulus who live far from towns and have not picked up the notions of civilizations, believe that in the special cases of snakes which find their way into houses and huts, the spirits of dead relatives have reincarnated. Therefore they do not attempt to kill them, but merely attempt to get them out of the house, usually by sending for the witch-doctor, who often combines snake-charming with his many other pursuits.
Several times when looking into a cobra's eyes, I thought of this weird Zulu belief. Despite their baffling and mysterious fixity, I received occasionally an uncanny and indescribable feeling that there was behind them an intelligence which was almost human.
Once, when I had slung a particularly thick and exceptionally large specimen of a snake around my neck for not more than a single minute, I had experienced a sudden slipping away of my mind from its earthly surroundings, and a bewildering psychic state supervened. I felt that I was losing my physical moorings and that the inner world of spirits was opening up. I seemed to depart from our whirling ball of land and water for some dark, ghostly, supra-mundane sphere whose atmosphere was definitely evil. I did not relish the idea of falling into such a condition